While most Metro Detroiters were home enjoying time off with family, friends and loved ones Sunday, hundreds of volunteers fanned across the region and made a point of lending a helping hand on Christmas.
"It's not my holiday, but I know Christmas Day means a lot to people that usually help out and their families," said West Bloomfield resident Rasheeda Zafar of West Bloomfield. Zafar, who emigrated from Pakistan in 1972, spent her Christmas morning making deliveries with the program administered by the Bloomfield Township Senior Services Center.
She trekked about 20 miles going between about a dozen homes throughout Bloomfield Township, bringing holiday spirit and much-needed food.
"I appreciate the time and the patience they show and what they do is greatly appreciated on Christmas," said T. J., of Bloomfield Township after accepting packages for himself and another family member.
Zafar, 66, is a regular Meals on Wheels volunteer who purposely chooses the holidays to help out. The administrator at Wayne State University said she staunchly believes in giving back to the community and serving seniors is a way of "paying it forward."
"It doesn't hurt me at all to spend some time and do this," she explained. "When I see these homebound seniors, I see my own face in them and I think that I could be there one day, too. You don't know what's around the corner."
Food Bank Fun
Just outside a residential neighborhood on Pontiac's north side, the sorting area within the Gleaners Community Food Bank is bustling with activity like it would be on nearly every other day.
More than a dozen members of the congregation in West Bloomfield were sorting materials and packing boxes full of vital food supplies in an assembly-line fashion. They were part of a group of more than 800 registered volunteers that helped 40 different social service organizations throughout Metro Detroit known as Mitzvah Day, named after the Hebrew word for good deeds.
The effort is coordinated by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, and included sites for interfaith volunteers for the third consecutive year.
During their three-hour stint, the Temple Israel volunteers filled four industrial-sized pallets with 30 boxes, representing about 1,000 pounds of food, said Gleaners spokesman DeWayne Wells. Volunteers of all ages were welcome and several children made good use of their relative sizes by climbing into large container bins to hand out the supplies.
"It's fun and giving me something to do today," said Jake Rubin, 12, of West Bloomfield. "Otherwise I'd just be hanging out at home."
Risa VanDerAue of Farmington Hills said she brought her daughter Allison, a fifth-grader at , because she wanted to instill a sense of volunteerism as she gets older.
"We're usually away this time of year, but since we're here I figured she's old enough and there's no reason we should not be doing something to help," VanDerAue said.
The crew at Gleaners is especially valued for letting their other volunteers enjoy the holiday with their families, but they are giving the organization a necessary jump start for the beginning of the year.
Without the help of school lunch programs, some children will be challenged to have balanced meals on a regular basis during the two-week vacation, Wells explained.
"What this group is doing is helping us prepare for that post-holiday period, and that's great for us from the standpoint that there is a critical need after the holiday," he said. "During those two weeks when school is out there will be a lot of children with food insecurity."
Hours for volunteering with Gleaners are 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Sarah Blight is the volunteer coordinator for Oakland County’s Gleaners in Pontiac and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at (866) 453-2637. For more information on how to volunteer or donate at Gleaners, go to www.gcfb.org.
For more information about Patch's 30 Days of Giving series, visit here.
Editor's note: We did not include the last names of meals on wheels recipients at the request of Bloomfield Township Senior Services, which abides by federal requirements for confidentiality.